Austin Stevens Adventures: Killer Lion Stakeout

Friday 19th February 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the wildlife adventure series with Austin Stevens. In this instalment, the intrepid photographer heads to the Serengeti plains to pit his wits against the ultimate predator. Austin’s challenge is to capture an image of a lion on the hunt – but it is not going to be easy. After spending days with a suitable pride, Austin realises that he will have to work through the night if he is to get his shot.

Austin’s latest adventure takes him to his home continent of Africa and to the Serengeti plains in northern Tanzania. With over 3,000 lions resident in this area, photographing one should not be a problem. However, whereas most tourist images capture the predators at rest, Austin needs to catch them at their very best – during a hunt. “It’s going to be the ultimate test and extremely dangerous,” he says.

To give himself the best chance of success, Austin leaves the open plains in favour of wooded areas near watering holes. Lions prefer these locations owing to the cover provided by the long grass and trees. “To get the photographs I’m looking for, you need all the cards stacked in your favour,” explains Austin. He has timed his trip to coincide with the great migration, when over one million wildebeest and zebra descend on the plains to feed on the lush greenery. It is not long before Austin’s instincts are proven correct. Fresh tracks show that a pride of lions is nearby. “This is it – this marsh is exactly what I’ve been looking for,” he enthuses. “This is going to be a great place to stake out!”

Having found his spot, Austin sets up camp for the night. However, the following morning brings a new challenge. Austin rises at sunrise to get back on the trail of the pride, but his clapped-out jeep breaks down, bringing the morning’s search to a premature end. Austin is left with no choice but to head to the nearest village on foot – in the middle of lion country. Luckily, the local Masai come to the rescue and are able to furnish the visitor with a functioning Land Rover. With his vehicular problems solved, Austin returns to the marshland and eventually comes across a family of lions. Among the group are two females and six young cubs. “That’s incredible – this pride is exactly what I was hoping for!” he says. “Now the lion stakeout really begins.”

Unfortunately, the trail has gone cold by the next morning. With no sign of the lions, Austin suspects they have already started hunting. It takes Austin another 24 hours to catch up with the pride, by which time he is too late – both females and all six cubs are feasting on a zebra they must have killed during the night. Austin is elated to have found the predators again, but disappointed to have missed the action. “I just missed the kill!” he says. However, he is sure he will not have to wait long for another opportunity. “With plenty of mouths to feed, these lions will need to hunt again soon,” he says.

Over the next few days, Austin is foiled again by his elusive quarry. Vultures circling overhead guide him back to the pride, while also suggesting he has missed another kill. On this occasion, the unfortunate animal is a wildebeest. “My only chance is to be with these lions at dawn,” Austin concludes. “Now that they’ve moved into more open territory, I have a way of making that happen – but it’s going to be risky.” As the sun sets that evening, Austin kits out his vehicle with thermal-imaging equipment and prepares for a night with the lions.

In the pitch black of a Serengeti night, Austin is forced to rely entirely on his thermal-imaging camera. “This makes me very nervous because I don’t know where I’m going,” he says as he edges the Land Rover forwards into the dark. But his persistence pays dividends when he stumbles upon the females on the prowl. “Finally, all the pieces are in place,” he whispers. Will Austin manage to get the shot he wants, or will he be defeated by the king of the jungle?

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